Northern Ireland boasts a proud seafood tradition thanks to its wide range of stunning coasts, rivers and lakes which are being celebrated as part of Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink in Seas, Rivers and Loughs month.

Tourism Northern Ireland has come up with some ideas for ways to enjoy our seafood and their habitats.

Proud Suppliers of Seafood

Northern Ireland is home to an array of seafood suppliers, many of whom span generations and all of whom take pride in providing fresh seafood to restaurants, shops and customers across Northern Ireland and beyond.

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Lough Neagh Eels is the largest producer of wild caught eels in Europe, producing 400 tonnes of eels every year. The eels are mainly shipped to The Netherlands for smoking and Billingsgate, London for production of jellied eels, and to restaurants around the country where local chefs love using them in delicious recipes. In 2011, Lough Neagh Eels were awarded PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status, recognising their heritage, tradition and authenticity.

Several fish suppliers in Northern Ireland go back many generations, such as Ewing’s Belfast Fishmongers. Established in 1911 when William Ewing opened the original shop in Belfast, it is now supplier to Northern Ireland’s leading restaurants and hotels, with Ewing’s smoked salmon a favourite among many Michelin starred chefs.

Another seafood stalwart in Northern Ireland is Keenan Seafood. Thomas Keenan and his son Gerard opened T Keenan & Son fish merchants back in 1942, and nowadays the business makes daily deliveries throughout Northern Ireland from its purpose-built facility on the outskirts of Belfast.

More recently established but just as popular is Glenarm Organic Salmon, producing up to 600 tonnes of organic salmon from the Irish Sea every year and distributing to 15 countries around the world. It is the only Atlantic salmon farm in the Irish Sea and has a commitment to the welfare of the fish and the long-term protection of the environment.

George’s Market is one of Belfast’s oldest attractions. It was built between 1890 and 1896 and is one of the best markets in the UK and Ireland. It has been voted for numerous local and national titles and awards for its fresh, local produce and great atmosphere. It holds a weekly Friday Variety Market as well as the City Food and Garden Market on Saturdays. It also hosts a range of events throughout the year.

To sample a wide variety of delicious local produce, call into St. George’s Market, Belfast, particularly on a Friday morning, when the variety market takes place. In this popular market, the fish section alone contains 23 stalls and holds the reputation for being the leading retail fish market in Ireland.

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The Hillsborough International Oyster Festival is also unmissable for fans of oysters, but promises fun for everyone as the best local produce, hospitality and entertainment is celebrated. The Festival takes place in Hillsborough village, Co. Down, from August 30 – September 4.

Great spots for fishing

In Northern Ireland, you are never far away from a good fishing spot and wherever you are, there will be a beautiful location nearby with potential for a great catch.

The Fermanagh Lakelands is a haven for anglers. With its abundance of Loughs and Rivers, our waters offer game anglers the opportunity to fish for salmon and wild brown trout as well as stocked rainbow and brown trout. The famous sonaghan, ferox and gillaroo can also be found in these diverse waters. Fermanagh is an ideal destination for canoeing enthusiasts with the magnificent lakes of Upper and Lower Lough Erne, lined by the River Erne, providing a trail of up to 50km. From the Woodford River on the Upper Lough the Shannon Erne Waterway can be reached and from there it is possible to paddle all the way to Limerick! Lower Lough Erne and its rugged shoreline provide a vast expanse of open water where large waves can build during windy periods – an ideal venue for the experienced paddler! In stark contrast the Upper Lough provides good shelter with its maze of bays, narrow channels of slow flowing water and innumerable islands and peninsulas – offering a superb venue for the whole family!

The vast Upper and Lower Lough Erne, Co. Fermanagh, are not only home to many picturesque spots whether you’re fishing by the lakeside or on a boat, but also home to trout and salmon in the spring and summer months.

Another popular spot further north is the Portrush Harbour Wall, Co. Antrim. This peaceful location separates Portrush Harbour with the Atlantic Ocean and many different species of fish can be found here, in particular, plaice during the summer and whiting and codling around October to December.

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One breathtaking spot for sea fishing is Garron Point, a headland on the famous Antrim Coast Road. These rocks and choppy waters make for some dramatic scenery and in the summer months can produce mackerel, pollock and coalfish. If you want to make a day of your fishing trip then why not try Carrickfergus Pier? As well as being just opposite the stunning and interesting Carrickfergus Castle, it’s a prime spot for a good catch with conger eels being up for grabs in rockier parts.

Please note that some types of fishing require a licence. Visit www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/angling-licences-and-permits for more detail.

Treats for seafood lovers

Of course, for food-lovers, the best thing about living somewhere with such seafood pedigree is being able to sample some of our fine produce, and Northern Ireland has places for this in abundance.

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When talking about great seafood restaurants, it is impossible not to mention the incredibly popular Mourne Seafood Bar in Belfast and Dundrum. Here, fresh local seafood is served at an affordable price either in traditional style or with a continental or Asian twist. A tempting oyster bar is available, and the restaurants are unique in that all the shellfish they serve is sourced from their own shellfish beds at Ballyedmond in Carlingford Lough.

In Portrush, The Mermaid Kitchen & Bar is another popular choice. Here, visitors can enjoy a variety of grilled fish as well as its famous Seafood Thermidor with a selection of cod, salmon, monkfish and prawns for two, all while savouring the gorgeous sunset views at Ramore Head, itself a popular spot for fishing.

Other tasty choices include two award-winning options in County Down. The Quays Restaurant, Portavogie, serves up delicious freshly caught fish and this year was awarded the title of Best Seafood Restaurant at the Northern Ireland Food Awards. Meanwhile, The Boathouse offers picturesque views of Bangor Marina and won Best Restaurant and Best Wine Experience in Co. Down at the 2016 Restaurant Awards Ireland.

Of course one of the most popular ways to enjoy Northern Ireland’s array of seafood is still as part of a good hearty fish supper, and thankfully, there are plenty of delicious choices throughout Northern Ireland. These include the multi-award winning Donaghy’s Real Fish and Chips in Derry~Londonderry, and Dolphin Takeaway in Dungannon, Co. Tyrone, the proud winners of Northern Ireland’s Fish and Chip Shop of the Year 2016.

Activities for Water Babies

Northern Ireland’s seas, rivers and lakes aren’t just home to fresh fish and seafood, there are also lots of fun things to do around them.

In County Fermanagh, you can immerse yourself in the Lakeland landscape of Lough Erne by catching an Erne Water Taxi. As well as providing a pick-up and drop-off service from any accessible jetty on Lough Erne, Fermanagh’s newest water touring company also offers speciality tours such as a Heritage Trail, Food Trail and Upper and Lower Lough Erne experiences.

On the other hand if you fancy getting a little wetter, then why not take some surfing lessons? In Portrush, Troggs Surf School provides lessons and courses for all levels of surfer. Whether you’re a complete beginner wishing to learn a new skill, a more experienced surfer wanting to hone your craft or a group of friends or family looking for a unique way to spend an afternoon, then Troggs Surf School is one of the best in the United Kingdom.

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For those wishing to get up close and personal with some of the fascinating wildlife in our waters, then the long-awaited re-opening of Exploris Aquarium in Portaferry, Co. Down will be excellent news. Hosting a large variety of the sea animals found in Strangford Lough, Exploris is a popular summer day out for the family, and will open its doors once again on August 15.

For further information check out www.discovernorthernireland.com or join the conversation online with #EnjoyNI16.

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